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Stratford under-12s edge out rivals in another thriller

Charles Squires, Joel Hewett, Jago Vialan, Charlie Billings in action against Barkers Butts.
Charles Squires, Joel Hewett, Jago Vialan, Charlie Billings in action against Barkers Butts.

STRATFORD under-12s came out on top of a thrilling contest against old rivals Barkers Butts last Sunday.

The two teams have played one another every season since starting youth rugby in the under-sixes playing tight, well-contested affairs and last weekend's match was a prime example.

Having been disappointed to only draw in this year's away fixture having led 5-1 going into the final quarter, Stratford were determined not to lose while enjoying home advantage and fielded a strong 23-man squad who would divide up into two teams across four 15 minute quarters of play.

Early exchanges were even with defence solid but Barkers showed first, displaying better reorganisation to provide width and then impressively using powerful players hitting the ball at pace to create gaps.

Barkers’ lead could have been extended further were it not for superb determination and pace by Joel Hewett for a try-saving tackle and then the same player’s involvement in the creation of Stratford’s first try finished off by Charles Squires.

Tackling was proving hard work with Barkers enjoying a size advantage and the away side restored their three-try lead following a rally from the Black and Whites with the uncatchable Charlie Whorrod finding a gap in the centre.

Despite the 5-2 scoreline, the team didn’t panic under pressure – Noah Harvey and William Winter in particular coping well when playing as the last man – and the gap was narrowed at half-time to just two scores with Hewett as scrum-half spotting a blind-side gap, skinning his cover and then handing off an excellent Barkers attempt at a cover tackle to score from halfway.

Revitalised at half-time by a change of personnel – and with Barkers losing a couple of players through injury - Stratford set about chipping away at their visitors’ lead.

Callum Long, perhaps Stratford’s most improved player, terrified the opposing defence with his pace and deserved his score. Jago Vialan was irrepressible, first forcing a try with sheer power and determination and then scoring a breakaway try to level the scores.

Into the final quarter and Stratford had pulled ahead by a single score to lead 7-6 with Archie Marson-Bacon’s pace stretching a tired Barkers defence.

Now it was Stratford with the overlaps – Osian Mulligan finding space and speed on the wing to score and then Matthew Belcher reminding Barkers of the pace he has consistently showed against them over the last six years.

Still Barkers wouldn’t give up and the two-try lead was narrowed, re-established by Belcher and then shortened again to just one with Stratford leading 10-9 into a last play.

Barkers restarted and gathered the ball but it had failed to go seven metres – Stratford scrum on halfway.

Stratford packed down and retained the ball, the excellent Oliver Feaver delightedly hoofing it into touch to secure the win.

Stratford under-12s: Aidan Blann, Archie Marson-Bacon, Artie Dobson, Callum Long, Charles Squires, Charlie Billings, Charlie Whorrod, Ethan Creed, Harri Liggins, Henry Frost, Jack Quantrill, Jago Vialan, James Cottam, Jamie Mulally, Joel Hewett, Joel Morris, Leo Petch, Matthew Belcher, Noah Harvey, Oliver Feaver, Osian Mulligan, Will Abrey, William Winter.

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